Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mallory's Castle: The Blog

I've relaunched the Mallory's Castle blog after puttering around with it for a few days, designing a header I can live with for now and fussing about other details. About all that's there now is a slightly updated Mallory chronology, but I'll be adding more. You can access it here.

The first version of this blog, the "Mallory Castle Log," was launched during 2005, but never quite got off the ground. After reclaiming it, it turned out the template could not be updated because of its age --- so I launched another. Once everything has been moved to the new blog I'll kill off the old so it doesn't continue to add to cyberspace clutter.

That's the "castle," formally the Ilion, up top --- as it looked soon after completion in 1881 and from its most photogenic angle, looking northwest. Click to enlarge it and you'll see a woman and a dog in front of the solarium. That gives some idea of the scale of the place. And that's the builder, Smith H. Mallory, at left.

Below is another example of Mallory triumphalism, the second St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, once located a half block east of the southeast corner of the square. Our current building is considerably less ornate and located at the north edge of town. The Mallory's Castle grounds are now a housing development.

The fact that both these grand buildings had such short lifespans --- the house 75 years and the church, only 50, is one of the reasons why the Mallory saga interests me. There are a lot of good stories involved in the rise and fall of the Mallorys --- and a few cautionary tales, too.

My friend Nick and I spent a lot of time on the Mallory trail a few years ago, tracking down two of the castle's mantlepieces to a house built in Osceola not long after the castle fell, rescuing two others from a chicken house. I can see a small pile of battered books from the Mallory library, bearing the "Ilion" bookplate, from where I'm sitting now.

I also acquired a mountain of Mallory-related notes and documents and other stuff and kept thinking I should come back to this project and get to work. And now I have. Here's the text of the introduction that will be added to "Mallory's Castle" when I get around to it:


When I was 9, the old house known as Mallory’s Castle --- named Ilion by its builder --- was torn down to clear the way for a housing development. It was the most elaborate house ever built in Lucas County, constructed by the most elaborate family ever to live here --- but stood for only 75 years.

Liability was not a major concern during 1955, so the owners felt free to throw open the doors of the old place one last time during April of that year so that everyone interested could tour it. We did, along with my dad’s cousin, Edwin Johnson, his wife, Betty, and their daughter, Martha. So did thousands of others.

Thieves --- also attracted by the publicity --- had made off with a chandelier or two and a few other fixtures beforehand, but that made very little difference, except to the owners.

I remember the tour distinctly, but as it turned out remembered very little else about the building accurately. I’ve been interested in the house and, to a lesser extent the family, ever since.

Smith H. Mallory and his wife, Annie, along with their daughter, Jessie, arrived in Chariton during 1867 with the first trains. He had just begun to build a fortune constructing rail lines and bridges, enriched as all rail entrepreneurs were at that time by vast public subsidies, mostly in land.

Mallory left no stone unturned to earn a buck. Rail revenue poured in until his death in 1903, but he also built one of southern Iowa’s most powerful banks, became the region’s most innovative agriculturalist on his 1,000-acre Brook Farm and had a financial finger in virtually every other county enterprise --- from manufacturing plows to mining elusive gold and silver (in Arizona).

Mallory’s Castle was built 1879-81 to a probable design by Des Moines architect William Foster. It was not grand in the sense that Terrace Hill, now the Iowa governor’s mansion, is grand --- but it was grand enough. In fact, it became legendary.

The view from the southeast was most pleasing. From the southwest it looked clumsy and slightly out of whack. It’s tower dominated the horizon, as the Mallorys dominated Chariton’s business and, among those with aspirations at least, social life.

Mallory’s legacy seemed assured when he died during 1903 of stomach cancer and was buried in the Chariton Cemetery near a family tombstone that rivaled his house and his church (St. Andrew’s Episcopal) in triumphalist splendor.

But then it all came tumbling down during 1907 when the suicide by morphine of trusted Mallory associate and First National Bank manager Frank Crocker revealed that Crocker had gutted and dissipated bank assets. It was Lucas County’s greatest financial calamity until the Great Depression.

In the aftermath, all Mallory assets in Lucas County were turned over to the government to cover bank losses after a long and bitter court fight involving the widow, Annie, and daughter, Jessie. The women fled to Florida, taking the Ilion’s contents with them --- along with Jessie’s still-substantial fortune, sheltered from creditors. Lucas County and the Mallorys did not part friends.

The Ilion and Brook Farm were sold by bank receivers to the partnership of William Eikenberry Sr. and Luther Busselle. The house then went to sleep for 50 years, remaining structurally sound but deteriorating through neglect to the point where not even farm hands could live in its back rooms.

In 1949, after Eikenberry and Busselle died, the property was sold to Otto Brown, who took an active interest in the old house and in part restored it. Families lived in its rooms again. But then Brown died and his heirs turned their focus to the value of the land under and around rather than to the house itself.

During the years between 1903 and 1949, most of Mallory’s monuments to himself vanished --- the Opera Block burned, his north-side business block was demolished and replaced. In the 1920s, Jessie and Annie had both Mallory and his tombstone removed from the Chariton Cemetery and shipped to Orlando.

As his house was coming down during 1955, his church --- by then structurally unsound because of flaws in design or construction or both --- was coming down, too.

Few reminders remain. The date stone and the shattered name stone, once embedded in the brick fabric of the Ilion, are at the Lucas County Historical Society museum. The clock Mallory gave in 1894 still keeps time in the courthouse tower. One of his barns remains at what once was Brook Farm. The graves of Jessie’s stillborn daughter and first husband, Deming Thayer, who killed himself, remain in the Chariton Cemetery.

The legend of Mallory’s Castle still has a certain power, however. Mention it, and someone’s bound to say, “that should never have been torn down.” Of course it shouldn’t, but no one made an effort to save it in 1955 and it’s a little late now to become heavily invested in regret.

There’s no harm in telling the story of the house and those who built it, however.


Lynne Wilson said...

I enjoyed this piece of history very much. Thanks Frank. I have read the old blog, but find this one much easier on the eyes and the brain. Am looking forward to the continuation. Lynne

Nick said...

Thanks Frank, Would love to see "The Book" done someday as well! I am going to be starting on the Well's cabin soon and would love to erect one of those fireplaces in there and put up a lot of the Mallory history on the walls. There is some Mallory history out there with the first 5 motel units having been constructed with reclaimed Mallory lumber.